Translations of Transnational Black Icons in the Poetics of Frances Harper

Monique-Adelle Callahan

in Between the Lines

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199743063
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199895021 | DOI:

Series: Imagining the Americas

Translations of Transnational Black Icons in the Poetics of Frances Harper

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This chapter shows how African American poet Frances Harper Harper explicitly transnationalizes the question of freedom and humanity for African Americans in the nineteenth century. In a country torn between a national rhetoric of freedom and a social and economic dependency on slavery, she offered a vision of a free black republic, evoking the history of what would become a celebrated symbol of struggle against colonial imperialism—the Republic of Palmares. Four decades later, in the aftermath of a failed Reconstruction leading to racial violence and the exclusion of blacks from United States citizenship, Harper wrote about a black Cuban leader who fought to quell racial conflict in his country for the sake of national unity and independence. She suggests that the scope of African American experience extends beyond regional and national boundaries. Well before the Harlem Renaissance and Negritude movements popularized internationalism in poetry, Harper began using poetry to challenge African Americans to conceptualize identity beyond national borders. Harper’s appropriations of Zumbi and Maceo are signs not only of Harper’s Pan-African sensibility but also of her early transnational African American poetics, a poetics demanding a certain kind of critical analysis—one that recognizes the permeability of national boundaries.

Keywords: Maceo; Zumbi; Cuba; Brazil; United States; Palmares; Afro-Cuban; Transnationalism; Frances Harper; Spanish-American War

Chapter.  8532 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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